Category Archives: Unpopular Opinions

Veterinary Pet Peeves

Veterinary Pet Peeves

drt_sxWant to know what drives veterinarians and their staff nuts? Here are some common pet peeves (well, people peeves, actually).

Veterinarians are “real doctors.” They go through just as many years of difficult study as any human doctor. Please, treat your vet with respect! If you wouldn’t dream of walking into your doctor’s office without an appointment, remember that your vet is probably just as busy. Also, it is so thoughtful to call us if you can’t make your pet’s appointment. Not only does it show respect for the vet’s time, someone may be waiting for that cancellation.

Keeping us apprised of changes in your pet’s behavior or health can often help identify problems early on and intervene more quickly. This can save your pet discomfort, and save you some money in the long run, if we can keep the issue from becoming more serious. Early detection and treatment isn’t just a good idea for humans!

So do call us to ask questions about your pet’s health, but understand that the person answering the phone may not know the answer, and that the doctor is busy and cannot usually take calls during work hours. Don’t be offended if we ask to check with the doctor and call you back. And remember, your veterinarian does not possess a crystal ball, or the ability to diagnose over the phone. We can’t tell “how long this bout of diarrhea will last,” or “if it will go away on its own.” If we get back to you to let you know the doctor wants to see your pet, there’s a good reason, and it’s not about being “in it for the money.” If you knew how little even the veterinarians actually make compared to what they owe in loans, you’d understand how absurd this statement really is.

On a related note, one thing you can say that is guaranteed to elicit an internal, “so what?” is to tell us, “I’ve spent [insert $$$] at your clinic!” We aren’t keeping track. That’s the thing about medical problems. They occur with zero regard for how many issues you have already treated. Life isn’t fair! I recommend pet insurance.*

Many veterinary clinics are not equipped to deal with emergency situations requiring a lot of time and staff, especially if it occurs at the end of our working day. If we refer you to another clinic or animal hospital, it’s because your pet needs more immediate or intensive care than we can provide, not because we don’t want to treat your pet. Also, realize that we cannot cancel all other appointments to accommodate your emergency. Always keep the address and phone number of a local emergency clinic handy in case you have a situation we simply cannot handle right away.

And again, if you have a very sick or injured animal and no money, please don’t tell us we are uncaring people because we won’t work for free. Would you tell your auto mechanic that he should do your transmission repair for free, because he loves cars? Do you think our supplies and equipment and utilities and staff are free?

Finding out that an owner stopped giving necessary medications or treatments is frustrating for us. It’s usually accompanied by a frantic phone call and unscheduled visit that disrupts the other appointments, and can be life-threatening for the pet. If you are having trouble giving medications, please ask your clinic for advice as soon as possible. We’re all pet owners too, and I guarantee we have all faced similar challenges! Just because we are veterinary staff does not in any way mean that our pets all open wide for their medications. We wish.

Just as in humans, the aftermath of a pet’s surgery can be painful. Please make sure that you take home any pain meds your pet may need—and give them as instructed. The old wives’ tale that animals don’t feel pain “in the same way” as humans do is utter nonsense. If you want to test this theory, step on your pet’s tail or paw. Pet screech = feeling it. The notion that they feel these stimuli as painful but not, say, surgical removal of a uterus, seems nuts to me. Animals have biological reasons to try to hide pain. So the safe assumption, in my opinion, is if would hurt you, it hurts them.

Ultimately, the best way to save money and keep your pet healthy is through preventative measures. Schedule a check-up once a year, keep your pet’s vaccinations current, and report any changes in behavior or health immediately. Remember, if you can’t afford the costs of regular veterinary visits, vaccinations, medicines, and nutritious food with a reserve for emergencies, don’t get a pet! As your best friend and your dependent, your pet is entitled to the best care you can find.

If you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios, I hope that you will take this advice to heart. If you do, you will be saving time, money, and possibly your pet’s life.


*Do your research though. Not all plans are created equal. And if you can, sign up for it when your pet is young.

Unpopular Opinions, Part 2: Breeders

Unpopular Opinions, Part 2: Breeders

puppiesThere is a huge range of breeders out there, from the truly great to the truly abysmal. A great breeder will breed only for the betterment of the breed, and love of the breed. They will be well-versed in the kinds of issues their breed could suffer from, and will work to eliminate or minimize that problem in their animals. Great breeders feed great foods, and vaccinate and deworm. Great breeders will carefully screen you to be sure you will be a good home for their puppy. Hint: anyone who has three pens in the dirt in their backyard, filled with different breeds of puppies, is not a breeder, not even a substandard one. But they will call themselves breeders exactly the same way people with a row of ribbons on their wall and champion lineages will. So beware.

It is no secret that there is a certain tension between breeders and veterinarians. There are lots of reasons for this, but from the veterinary side of the fence, here’s the scoop. Breeders are not veterinarians. Veterinarians are doctors. They go to school for about 8 years and at a typical cost of about $100,000 to become doctors. There’s a lot of medical knowledge you must master before you can graduate. It bears noting also that it is far more difficult to get into Vet School than Med School. You must be absolutely stellar, because at (for instance) University of Florida, there are about 4000 applicants for only 80 spots per year.

However, there are many breeders out there who consider themselves more of an expert in their dogs’ health than a mere veterinarian. We have gotten to look at lots of packets that breeders send home with new owners, stipulating what foods they must feed, what drugs the pet must never ingest, etc. I have even seen one recently that stated that Labrador Retrievers must never be bathed as it will make them more prone to skin allergies. Hoo, boy. This is the reading material that makes for some slightly awkward conversations with new owners. We don’t want to bash your breeder. But we have a duty to educate you on what information in that packet is real, and what is imaginary.

Here’s the deal: breeders (and here I am talking about Real Breeders, Real Breeders are focused on one breed only, have champion animals, and would far rather keep that puppy rather than sell it to the wrong home), are experts in their breed. They will know what kinds of issues their dogs may have. But a breeder should not dictate your puppy’s future diet or veterinary care (or forbid bathing). Great breeders want you to feed a high-quality food, but they should not really care which one you eventually choose.

There actually are a few breeds that have select drug sensitivities. But these are very few and far between, and—surprise!—your veterinarian already knows about breed-specific sensitivities. Remember that your veterinarian has probably treated your breed before, once or twice or twenty thousand times. No matter how much your breeder insists that your puppy will curl up and die if fed anything other than Purina ONE, this is simply not the case. And Purina ONE is crap.*

Some breeders, of course, think that 8 years of school and however many years of practice is worthless in comparison to their vast accumulations of knowledge. But please, take their stipulations with a grain of salt. No matter what you signed, they cannot come to your house and force you to feed their chosen food. That is actually not legal. If your veterinarian suggests that there are higher-quality foods out there that might be better for your puppy, listen.

If this seems a bit rant-y and mean-spirited, try for a second to put yourself in our shoes. Every day, we strive to provide the best possible advice on your pet’s care and nutrition. We want your pet to live long and prosper! We want you to be happy with the care we provide. We love to see happy, healthy cats and dogs. So every day, when we find ourselves up against something misleading or just plain wrong that your breeder, groomer, local PetSmart cashier, or best friend swore to you is the gospel, it can be wearing. Anything crazy that begins, “My breeder told me…” does create some negative connotations.

So let me balance this with an example of a phenomenal breeder. We have a couple who are wonderful clients, and who recently lost their older dog to cancer. After a brief period of mourning, they started scouting for breeders who specialized in their favorite breed. They turned up a breeder, who had puppies almost ready for sale, and started a conversation with him. The breeder ended up shipping them a puppy, once the puppy was of age. And then the trouble started.

The puppy was very smart—but willful. They easily trained him to sit, and stay (remember, this puppy was only about 8 weeks old!). They hired trainers, tried behaviorists. They did everything right. But their puppy was an unpredictable biter. He actually hurt his owners, and they never saw the attacks coming. Finally, after a lot of soul-searching and emotional distress, they contacted the breeder, to get his ideas. He immediately suggested that he take back the puppy, as it was not a good fit for the couple, and find another puppy with a more suitable personality. The original puppy will not be re-homed, but will live out his days on the property of the breeder. He will not be bred.

As sad as this story is for everyone concerned, it highlights what makes a wonderful breeder, in addition to careful attention to his dogs’ genetic makeup. He wants what’s best for his adoptive families and for his dogs. He acknowledges that some dogs are born with emotional and developmental disturbances, just as humans are. And he has a plan for when adoptions fail, one that doesn’t involve laying blame.

The happy ending is: the couple is now waiting for their next puppy to be ready for adoption. The rest of the happy ending is hypothetical, but no less important: the puppy is back living happily at the breeder’s farm. He is being well cared for and will not go the sad route he could have taken in life. Dogs with intractable behavioral problems are dogs that get abused, neglected, shuttled between shelters, and eventually euthanized.

So next time you are in the market for a breeder for that special puppy, please bear in mind that all breeders are not created equal. Look for breeders who produce only a couple of litters per year, and can talk knowledgeably about WHY they bred that specific male and female, what characteristics they were looking for. A great breeder will interview you as though you were applying to a very selective college. A great breeder will recommend that your puppy visit the veterinarian right away, not scare you away from visiting. Yes, you will spend a little more on a puppy through a great breeder. But you will also have a lifetime ally, who should be able to help you make good decisions for your puppy’s care.

*Quick nutritional guideline: read pet food labels. When you get to corn, put it back on the shelf. Corn is just a cheap filler.

Unpopular Opinions, Part 1: How to Choose a Dog Breed

Unpopular Opinions, Part 1: How to Choose a Dog Breed

IMG_1078If I could make a Global Veterinary Service Announcement (I have just patented that phrase in my mind, and also assigned it the awesome acronym GVSA), my very first one would be: Don’t choose a breed of dog to have as a pet just because you think it’s cute, or looks tough, or is enormous/tiny. Actually, I would have to shorten that up so it could be a snappy sound byte, but since this is a blog and I’m wordy, I think I’ll let it stand for now.

This is the single piece of advice that I think would save the most heartache (and pocketbook stress). Every time I see a college-age kid walk in proudly trailing her new pet English Bulldog, my heart sinks. Folks, some breeds are going to cost you a fortune, and the English Bulldog is only outdone by the Shar Pei in terms of how many expensive ailments your pet could potentially suffer during its lifetime (in my experience). For some reason though, people are almost uniformly surprised to hear that a Maltese the size of a hamster or a Bulldog that has been bred to share about zero morphology with its wolf ancestor is super duper likely to have a host of physical problems you will battle throughout its lifetime.

Now, I know I will catch some flak for this post; people will accuse me of ‘breedism.’ Or they will flock to tell me about how their aunt had Bulldogs her whole life and they never suffered so much as the sniffles. Let me say then to begin, I love all breeds of dogs. They are all wonderful, special creatures, and will give you so much love that these characteristics should be irrelevant. But the key word in that sentence is ‘should.’ The reality is, some breeds really are prone to more problems than others. And unless you are independently wealthy, this can become a strain on you, your pet, and your relationship with your veterinary staff.

Think about it. Many breeds of dog have been selectively bred for a variety of unnatural qualities. Let’s take the Pug. I love me a Pug. But if you think of all the genetic mutations that have been selected for to produce a canid half the size of a wolf (which should be your mental ‘ideal dog’ model), with a short, twisted tail, squat, compact body, muzzle that barely protrudes from its skull, bulging eyes, flopping ears—it should make your mind boggle.

So what’s wrong with that? Along with the ‘desirable’ mutations, you get some undesirable ones. Look back at that Pug. See those bulging eyes? Do you have any idea how many of the Pugs that come to see us have scratched or poked or otherwise injured those eyes, requiring exams and stains and drops? I would venture to guess the percentage is about 90%. See those tiny little nostrils? Hear that wheezy, snorty breathing? Many Pugs suffer from stenotic nares (tiny little nostrils), elongated soft palates (the source of a lot of that snoring, snorting, wheezing), and other problems that have arisen from genetically modifying a normal wolf-like muzzle down to something that in some cases is flush with the rest of the skull. Some brachycephalic dogs (the classification of dogs whose muzzles are severely foreshortened) actually require surgery to open the nostrils wider, or to shorten the soft palate so the animal can breathe. Then there’s the fact that about half of the dog’s teeth are in the mouth sideways (due to the fact that they can’t come in correctly since there isn’t any room), which can lead to an early accumulation of plaque and predispose the dog to periodontal disease. And all that is just in the dog’s head.

I could go on and on about breeds and issues: Boxers and heart disease, Schnauzers and bladder stones, Cockers and ear infections. But the point I am trying to make is not to avoid certain breeds on the grounds that they have a higher likelihood of specific problems. Mixed-breed dogs do benefit from hybrid vigor, but it doesn’t prevent them from developing allergies, or having other conditions. My point is simply to do some research on the breed you choose, so you know what to expect, and can be prepared for the potential issues you may have to face over your dog’s life. It’s ideal to go through this process BEFORE you bring home an adorable puppy.

When I say research, I do not mean visit a breeder’s website. The breeder is going to tell you that their dogs have never ailed a thing in their lives and never will. The breeder, you should remember, is trying to sell you a puppy. What I mean is, find a forum dedicated to your chosen breed. These exist, for any breed you can think of, and a lot you probably can’t. Then just scroll around and read. Once you are on page 10 of the forum, you’re probably done. Common problems occur commonly, and you will likely have identified several of the top contenders. Then, ask yourself if you have the time and resources to handle these problems if they arise. If you think cleaning ears is gross, do not adopt a baby Cocker Spaniel. If you think brushing a dog for a half hour each day is too time-consuming, do not even look at a German Shepherd puppy.

Choose a breed that fits well with your interests and lifestyle. If I had a nickel for every miserable Husky I see that lives in a Florida apartment with an owner who is gone 9 hours a day, I’d be rich. Think about what your breed was bred to do. Huskies were bred to haul heavy loads tirelessly through frozen terrain. Translation: they have LOTS of energy. Cooping this type of dog up in a house all day with nothing to do means you will come home to destruction. But if you live in Wisconsin and go for a daily run even in the winter, hey, here’s your new best friend!

In short, do your homework. Find out more about the breed you are interested in. If that breed doesn’t seem to be a good match for your personality or lifestyle (or pocketbook!), keep looking. I guarantee there’s a breed out there (or a mixed breed!) that will be perfect for you. And as a wise person once said, choose for personality, not looks. Because that great personality will transform even the homeliest mutt into a ravishing beauty in your eyes.